150 years ago today – The origins of the attack on Pokaikai. By Dave Rudd and Ivan Bruce

Image: Robert Reid Parris – Civil commissioner in Taranaki 1865 to 1875.

Early in the morning, Major McDonnell returned to Waingongoro with 12 troopers of the Wanganui Yeomanry Cavalry.

He was warned by others that an ambuscade awaited him along this route, and he ordered 30 Colonial and 20 Maori infantry to join him, before setting off for Waingongoro. Here he met Hone Pihama who tried to convince him to go to Kauae Village, where Wi Hukanui (Wiremu Hukanui Manaia) resided as rangitira of the Ngati Tu hapu, 5 miles northwest of Waingongoro.

The infantry remained in Waingongoro while he, Hone Pihama and the 12 troopers rode north. At Kauae McDonnell was met by a deputation of the chiefs and senior men from the Ngati Ruanui and Ngaruahine tribes.The Wanganui Times reported:

“Major McDonnell rode into the village with Hone. Arrived there, he dismounted, and by chance looked into a large whare, where to his surprise, he discovered about 20 young men eating potatoes, and their guns lying about the place, nor was their surprise less than his – they did not stir, not knowing whether he had a force at his heels. At this moment the troopers rode up, and Major McDonnell at once placed them around the village, with carbines at full cock.”

Captain Aperaniko Rangihikitea of the Native Contingent escorted McDonnell during the discussions, and recounted:

“The Hauhaus were in the village, they were of the Ngatiruanui tribe. Te Ua, after a little time addressed the Ngatiruanui’s saying, “You Ngatiruanui, this is (the by then) Lieut-Colonel McDonnell. This is the officer in whose hands it rests to give you peace, or to continue the fighting. I am not authorized to say anything in the matter. If you wish for peace, you must go to him.”

One man, Ihakara, suggested that the peace should be negotiated with Mr Parris rather than McDonnell, and Natanahira Ngahina (rangitira of the Tangahoe hapu of the Ngatiruanui Tribe) wanted to discuss the matter with Mr Parris before proceeding. Te Ua and Aperaniko Rangihikitea objected to this:

“During the feasting that followed the meeting, Lieut-Colonel McDonnell said quietly to Ngatanahira, “Come with me, and I will send my brother or Aperaniko into Wellington with you, so that you may see the Governor.” The talk lasted from the evening till ten o’clock at night, and at length Natanahira agreed to proceed the next morning to Waingongoro, for the purpose of seeing the Governor at Wellington, and we all returned to Waingongoro the same night. The following morning Wi Hukanui came to Waingongoro, which is about six miles from Kauae, and reported to the Lieut-Colonel that Natanahira had gone to Taranaki to Mr Parris.”

Natanahira’s decision to go to Mr Parris instead of McDonnell was ultimately fatal. Robert Parris was the Civil Commissioner in Taranaki, and had been a harsh critic of General Chute’s ruthless and bloody campaign and clearly considered by Maori to be a fairer and even-handed negotiator than McDonnell (whose instructions at the Kauae negotiations for his men “to dismount and cap” no doubt entrenched this belief…).

McDonnell and his troops returned to Manawapou and following Natanahira’s decision he decided that diplomacy had failed.

” The following morning Wiremu (Wi Hukanui) came to me and said that Te Ua had gone northward with Hone Pehama and the chief who had promised to come in and go to Wellington on behalf of his people.” I said no more ; but, thoroughly disappointed at not having succeeded in making peace, I marched to Manawapou”.

Following an earlier failed Hauhau ambush on the 16th of June, McDonnell was becoming increasingly distrustful, if not completely paranoid, of Maori intentions. Natanahira’s decision to go north to meet Parris in New Plymouth rather than submit to him was a final insult. McDonnell had decided that the time had come for further military action…..

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